There are two central characters in War Pony, and it is their shared history, socioeconomic condition, and upbringing that binds them together. One is a young school kid, Matho, while the other is Bill, a man in his early 20s with two little boys to feed. Through the two characters, directors Riley Keough and Gina Gammell attempt to show the cycle of life that is commonly seen on Pine Ridge Reservation. The current condition of the Oglala Lakota and Sicangu Lakota citizens is the result of years of extermination, oppression, exploitation, and broken treaties. The lack of welfare schemes, jobs, healthcare facilities, and educational centers has resulted in most taking the alternate route to earn for their families.
While shooting American Honey (Andrea Arnold), Riley Keough was introduced to extras Franklin Sioux Bob and Billy Reddy, and after years of discussions, War Pony was born. It documents the lived experience of Bob and Reddy, along with stories from the community. Keough and Gammell deliver the expected blend of magic and neo-realism, and throughout the film, you are kept guessing where it is headed. The coming together of Bill and Matho at some point was expected, but it played out well.
‘War Pony’ Plot Summary: What Is The Film About?
The moment Bill (Jojo Bapteise Whiting) entered his house, his mother informed him that his partner, Carly, had been arrested. He was neither too shocked by the news nor too keen on arranging the money needed to bail her out. Bill found a poodle at his doorstep, and he decided to return her to her owner, hoping the gesture would bring him cash. Instead of cash, Bill was offered a discount in case he wanted to buy the poodle. Bill’s day started with the news of his girlfriend’s arrest; he went on to return a lost poodle to arrange some money for bail, and by the end of the day, he was deeply invested in the poodle breeding business. He came across his ex-girlfriend, Echo, at the gas station. We get to know that he had a child with Echo, but he was an absent father. He ran off with her car and never showed up at his son’s baptism, leaving her disappointed.
Bill tried to mend his relationship with Echo, but she was tired of his deceptive ways. The poodle was Bill’s golden ticket, and he was hopeful that one day he would be rewarded. Bill was already dreaming about the millions he would earn from his poodle business, and he brushed off his responsibility when it came to bailing out Carly. Bill’s life took an interesting turn the next day when he came across a white man named Tim. The stranger requested that Bill drive him to his house, and the money he agreed to pay for it was decent. Tim’s requests kept piling up, and Bill charged him extra. Bill was not just interested in the rich white guy’s money; he demanded a job after Tim asked him to drive back a woman he had left behind in the truck. They came to a settlement, and in a matter of two days, Bill had cash and a job. Life finally started to look a little brighter.
Matho’s friends gathered at his house when his father was away. They found the meth his father kept hidden in a box. While Matho was afraid that his father, Arnie, would not spare him if he played around with his supplies, his friends persuaded him to break the rules for once. The boys belonged to underprivileged families, and they were all desperate to find a source of income. Selling drugs could make their lives a little easier. They eventually mixed salt into the drugs and sold them to local customers. When a customer came for them, Matho played innocent in front of Arnie and watched his father fight to protect him. Even though he was afraid of his father, Arnie was Matho’s family, and he cherished the little light-hearted conversations they had. As a child, Matho had to look after himself. His father was mostly absent, and they barely had enough to sustain themselves. The easy access to drugs, the lack of parental supervision, and the overall financial state took Matho’s childhood away.
Why Did Matho Light The Blue Bag On Fire? What Does The Bison Symbolize?
Matho soon lost Arnie’s trust and was thrown out of the house. He held onto an eagle’s feather, a symbol of bravery, as he tried to figure out a way to sustain himself. He landed on the doorstep of a relative who was a drug dealer and took care of kids as long as they helped her supply in school. Matho longed to return home, and he planned to win Arnie’s heart with some money and a card. Upon reaching his house, he realized that Arnie was gone. There was barely any food left, and Matho settled on the mattress and comforted himself with the magic book that he once got from the school library. The book perhaps reminded him of the last time he shared a laugh with his father. Matho had no expectations from Arnie; his presence was enough to make him feel safe. Soon, Matho’s friends informed him that Arnie’s body had been found in the creek. The only family Matho had was gone now, and he was lost once again.
When school officials discovered Matho in possession of meth, he lost his job. He was once again homeless, and he decided to spend a few days at his old house. His friends helped him redecorate the house. On Halloween, after getting buzzed out, the four friends conspired to steal the blue bag of Matho’s aunt, where she kept drugs, guns, and money. They successfully pulled it off and escaped in a stolen car. They ran into a deer, and the car fell into a ditch. The incident affected Matho deeply. Perhaps he felt blood in his hand when he came across the lifeless body of the animal. The loss of his father and the incident culminated in him deciding to give up on his fraudulent ways. As he was about to leave his house with a bag on his shoulder, Matho paused to take a look at the bison staring right at him. According to the internet, bisons in Native American culture symbolize the life of abundance that once was and also suggest that good times are on the way. Matho burned down the blue bag and the magic book as he continued to hold on to the eagle feather.
‘War Pony’ Ending Explained: How Did Bill Seek Revenge?
Bill bought the poodle, Beast, after landing a job working for a random white man. With his affectionate words, charm, and promise of becoming rich with a poodle, Bill won Echo’s heart. Bill started to work at Tim’s ranch and his plant for extra income. Tim tried to cover up his wife’s racist remark as she laughed about a Mexican worker during their lunch with Bill. From questioning him about his poodle business to his girlfriends and sons, Allison showed an unusual interest in Bill. She even offered a pair of her earrings to Bill to gift to his girlfriend. The couple’s interest in him was a little bizarre, but Bill did not think much of it. He was glad that his life was finally taking shape. He had a job and money to feed his family.
Bill’s job also required him to bring women from the Rez to Tim and drop them back home. He considered the entire arrangement his work and abstained from getting into Tim’s personal life. His relationship with Echo suffered when his ex-girlfriend, Carly, returned from prison. Carly stole Beast and sold it to the woman who bought the poodle in the first place. Bill managed to steal back Beast and her litter, which he was overjoyed to see. Bill was asked to look over the catering at the Halloween party at Tim’s place. Since his mother left, Bill had to bring his son to work. To impress Echo, he offered to take care of their son as well. He left Beast, his two sons, and the litter in his car. Bill was hopeful when Tim mentioned that one of his friends would be interested in buying a poodle puppy, but that ended up turning into a joke between Tim and his friends.
After the party, when Bill returned to his car, he found the door open. Beast was gone, and his sons were winning. There was noise at the turkey farm, and within a few seconds, Tim and his friends shot down Beast. A brief scuffle broke out between Bill’s friends and Tim’s cousin. Bill returned home with his dead dog in the trunk of his car. The imagery of white men preying on Native Americans at a Halloween party was revolting. White folks dressed as natives at the party underline the shameless appropriation and mockery that continues in closed circles. Tim’s obsession with sleeping with women only from the Rez is proof of his perversion. His wife was aware of it, and out of frustration, she accused Bill of sex trafficking. Clearly, her marriage with Tim was far from fulfilling, and his obsession affected her.
The next day, when Bill demanded his two weeks’ wage, Tim refused to pay him due to the damage caused to his turkey farm. Bill had enough; Tim not only denied him what he rightfully deserved but also took away the one thing that he held dear. Beast meant a lot more than just a business prospect to Bill, and Tim and his friends proved how they had the power to take away anything that they wanted. They pumped their chests, thinking that they had defeated the Natives, but they never took into consideration a counterattack. Bill and his friends drove a truck to get as many of Tim’s belongings as they could. The turkeys were brought to the Rez along with items that they believed were of some value. Pine Ridge Reservation was flooded with turkeys, an act of revenge for the rampant appropriation that is prevalent even today. Bill once again comes across the bison, which somewhat offers a consolation—Bill was on the right track.
By the end of War Pony, Matho and Bill had crossed paths. Matho had entered Bill’s house and was stealing food from the kitchen cupboard. Upon seeing Matho, Bill offered to make him breakfast. Bill knew what it was like to stay hungry for days, and he did not wish for Matho to suffer. Bill’s childhood might not have been any different. He, too, had to mix with the wrong crowd and suffer for days. He also did not have a father figure to look up to and had to fight to survive. Matho was staring at his future, but the only silver lining was that Bill was not a bad person. Maybe he would not grow up to become a rich man, but he could someday feed a hungry soul. Matho ended up staying with Bill and his family. Hustling is part of the lifestyle, but maybe Matho’s changed mentality would help him evolve.